Train Physics and Video




In this video we have a Canadian Pacific (CP) container train leaving the yard after a crew change. Note how he gradually increases the power. You can tell when he grabs each ‘notch’ (which means the slot on the control stand) as they get up to speed. I can hear the question: “Why didn’t he just give it full power and take off?” Well, here’s why:

The standard drawbar on a car is rated for 350-390k pounds of force, so if the engineer took off too hard, then he could exceed that and pull the train apart. That’s not good. If it’s a broken knuckle, that can be replaced fairly easily. If a drawbar is pulled, then that can require the car department to come fix it-and they could be in that yard or at another one several hours away. Either way, it’ll tie of the RR, get the Trainsmaster’s upset an truly anger the Dispatchers because it ruins the flow.

Mountain Railroading At Its Best




American freight railroading is like nothing in the world. The sheer amount of tonnage carried, the length of trains, power of the engines, it’s all something to behold. Mountain railroading is the epiphany of this. Freight trains struggle to climb grades higher then 1.6% due to the sheer weight being carried, thus calling for pusher power. Not all trains require this, because the ability of the engines to pull the train up the grade is enough. When it’s not, then additional power is added on.

Here are two of my favorite mountain railroading videos, one from each of the Eastern United States Class 1’s.


Norfolk Southern:

Note the sound of all the blowers on the trailing motor screaming. While I’m not an EMD fan, it’s something else to hear the sound right up to the time to pushers come by.


Weight of trains and Operation



csxt316 at lightfoot1I made a post earlier about trains and how they can’t stop, so I thought I’d follow up with some videos that show how heavy they are and just what it takes to get that TV, Car or Bottle of Orange juice to your house.

This video is from Horseshoe Curve in Pennsylvania in the United States. Note he isn’t going that fast because he’s climbing a hill. The engines operating on the rear are called ‘helpers’ or ‘pushers.’ The either push a heavy train up a grade or provide extra breaking for a heavy train to make it down the hill safely and not run away.

This website has a generator you can play with. Throw in the amount of tons you have, and a grade you want to create (bear in mind 1.25 is a good grade for a train. Anything over 2% is almost too much.) and it’ll tell you horsepower necessary.

Trains and People

csxt316 at lightfoot1


I’m sure I’ll be savaged for saying this, but I just finished watched a story on the 11pm news about a 19 yo girl being hit and killed by a train. She and her boyfriend had been fishing from a trestle and she couldn’t get out of the way in time. Now, this is a sob story why??

I grew up in a railroad family and from the time I was old enough to understand my dad always told me to stay off the tracks. He taught me the dangers of trains very early on. Thus, I know how this works.

Now before you savage me, read on and I’ll explain some things. First off, look at the train above. Do you see an end to those cars? I bet not. I can tell you, since I took the shot, that there were 150 fully loaded coal cars for export. That meant the train in question was around 16-17k tons and a mile and a half long.

Ok, we’ve established this now, so keep up with me-ok? Now the train is running 40mph and it’s on a steel ribbon. Now, let me ask you a question: if the train runs on those two tracks, can it turn? Can it turn left or right? The answer is no. All it can do it go forwards and backwards. This means it can’t swerve to avoid you.

With that established, let’s move to the next stage. Do you know how much these engines weigh? At base weight from GE they’re 432k pounds. CSX has ballasted then to 452k to get better traction and pull from them. So, all that to the 17k train. Still with me?

Now, with something that heavy, how long do you think it takes to stop it? Try two miles. That’s right! Two miles! And it’s not because the engines don’t have brakes, it’s due to the pure weight of the train. It takes a long time to stop one once it’s at speed. That’s pure physics…nothing more nothing less.

So, now that we’ve established the train can’t turn, that it weighs 17k tons, and it takes 2 miles to stop, who’s at fault here? It’s not the RR! And keep in mind, there’s a man or woman at the controls (or at the conductor side too) that dumps the air brakes (dumping means they’ve killed the air, which caused the shoes to lock onto the wheels and start to stop the train. All they can do is sit there and hope to God you get out of the way. There’s nothing they can do at that point but pray.

Imagine being in their shoes, unable to stop on a dime, blowing the horn, dumping the brakes and you can’t keep from hitting and killing that person. Could there be any possible worse feeling to have as a human being? These men and women clocked in to go to work and now have to live with the fact that someone died and they couldn’t do a damn thing to stop it.

I’ve known people who have had to take early retirement from the RR after a crossing accident or hitting a person. They just couldn’t do the job anymore for various emotional and psychological reasons. Keep in mind this is their livelihood and how they support their family, so imagine how traumatic this is on them too.

So, all I’m saying is to bear in mind that there’s a man or woman on that train that can’t do a thing to prevent what’s happening and has to live with it the rest of their lives. So, the family of the ‘victim’ isn’t the only one having to live with the pain of a lost life.

I want to leave you with this video to see. I want you to keep an eye out for the black vehicle and tell me if that engineer had time to do anything. And keep in mind, 5 kids died doing this stunt.

Gives you an idea of what kind of things railroaders have to deal with.